I have read the report—inconclusive.
Yet, I know how much your brain weighs,
your liver, your heart. Your ordinary,
damaged heart. I know it by the gram.
I think about the last hands to touch you,
your cool body fully fixed in rigor.
Hospital band around your left wrist,
a tag on your right great toe.
Your eyes were unremarkably blue.
Once, I told you you’d be dead in five years
and I was right. I have forgiven myself
for saying that awful thing people say
when they can’t hear their own joy,
when anger becomes connective tissue,
when you looked at me like a stranger,
already estranged from this life to the next.
This is not an elegy or an apology,
the lungs taking in too much water—
this is a memory coming up for air.
January Gill O’Neil is the author of Rewilding; Misery Islands, winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; and Underlife. She is an associate professor at Salem State University and serves on the boards of AWP, Mass Poetry, and Montserrat College of Art. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, O’Neil is the 2019–2020 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, where she lives with her two children this academic year.